E.T. the Extra-Tactical

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Entertainment,Ryan Vogt

"XCOM: Enemy Unknown" isn't so much a game as a time-travel device. Combining the two most engrossing genres in gaming, resource management and military tactics, it's a DeLorean of addiction that makes hours seem like minutes.

The game is an "enhanced remake" of the 1994 PC game"X-COM: UFO Defense," still renowned for the way it married big-picture strategy with micromanagement. Leave it to the folks at Firaxis, known for the standard-bearer "Civilization" series, to remake the game in a way that actually enhances it. This is more zoomed-in fare than they're used to dealing with, as you're tasked with running a military base, and not a, well, civilization, but they've been working on the game since 2008, and it shows.

"Enemy Unknown" is like two games in one. Aliens have invaded the Earth, and half the game involves ground skirmishes in which you command a small complement of soldiers against a small complement of aliens. This is done by taking turns with the enemy, as in chess, but the game is less chesslike than your standard tactics game. The fights don't take place across grids, but rather realistic settings like forests, commuter trains and office buildings, and the use of long-range firearms makes placement of units trickier than usual.

'XCOM: Enemy Unknown'
» System: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
» Price: $59.99
» Rating: 5 out of 5

The other half of the game involves running your secret underground command center, where you train your soldiers in disciplines of your choosing, from sniper to medic, and decide which countries, of several being attacked simultaneously, to send your strike forces to, with tactical and political repercussions from the countries you ignore. Meanwhile, you design the layout of this subterranean base, presented in a cross-section that will have the hearts of "SimAnt" fans everywhere swelling with nostalgia.

It's all tied together brilliantly, with your smallest decision on the battlefield affecting your biggest choices at the command center, and vice versa, for an experience that feels at once epic and personal.

Two knocks against the game: It's difficult to a degree that may turn off newcomers, and for such a cerebral game, it's awfully violent.

Even so, this is the best strategy game in years, since 2008's "Valkyria Chronicles," and it's one of the best games of 2012, sure to thrill control freaks, armchair generals and most everybody in between.

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